FIRST DRIVE REVIEW
It’s hard to maintain journalistic perspective on the launch of any new Ferrari, especially one that’s held at a luxury wine resort on the side of a mountain in Emilia Romagna, surrounded by the sort of scenery that causes the Italians to put “issimo” at the end of superlatives. Hell, we can even forgive the company’s controversial decision not to serve cocktails until after the press conference, meaning we had to listen to the rundown while entirely sober. It’s a tough job, but we bet you’re glad we’re here to do it.
Having our full attention provided Ferrari the chance to tell us plenty about the new 488 Spider and its turbocharged engine. The presentation covered pretty much everything, being detailed enough to include a slide entitled “How the Ediff3 with SSC and F-trac deals with the demands of power-on torque distribution.” If we tried to summarize the whole thing, we would probably bust our monthly allocation of pixels. But we don’t really need to, as pretty much everything bar the Spider’s roof is identical to the 488GTB we drove back in June.
It was fascinating nonetheless, especially when the talk turned to the strange business of marketing open-topped Ferraris. Maranello is on first-name terms with pretty much its entire customer base, and officials told us, with commendable exactness, that we can expect just over half of U.S.-bound 488s to be Spiders (the number for the 458 was 53 percent). While you’ll be unsurprised to learn that 60 percent of buyers have already owned at least one Ferrari, the revelation is that 90 percent of them will be what Ferrari terms “Spider-only” customers, unwilling to even consider a supercar with a fixed roof. There are, it transpires, two very different tribes of 488 owners. GTB buyers want to drive their car solo and are far more likely to take them on track, while Spider purchasers usually drive with the roof down and a partner in the passenger seat. They are, we were told, “open-car hedonists looking for driving emotions.” We’ll leave the mental image of that one up to you, but we’d be surprised if it didn’t include gold jewelry.
This brings the paradox. Because while the 488’s customer base is seemingly split between these hard-driving Alpha males and leathery debauchees, there’s only really a single car, one that now has the option of a neat folding hardtop. It’s not long since buying an open-topped Ferrari meant making significant sacrifices beyond merely the increased risks of acquiring skin cancer and a much younger wife. Spiders were the dynamic inferiors to their metal-roofed sisters, trading the opportunity to work on your tan and to better appreciate their wailing soundtracks for less performance, less precision, and a noticeable reduction in structural rigidity.
No longer. The 488 Spider is so close to being the equal of the GTB in every regard as to make no difference. It’s 110 pounds heavier—although a claimed 55 pounds lighter than would be an equivalent softtop—the mass added by the roof mechanism and some underfloor reinforcement at both ends. Yet Ferrari claims an identical 3.0-second zero-to-60-mph time for both versions and says they’re only 0.3-second apart by the time they reach 124 mph (which the Spider manages in 8.7 seconds). More remarkably, the 488 Spider is within a second of the GTB around a lap of the company’s Fiorano circuit and with its roof raised has, Ferrari says, 95 percent of the torsional rigidity of the coupe. Beyond the need to find slightly more money, and losing the chance to see the twin-turbocharged V-8 through the GTB’s clear engine cover, you don’t really lose anything by picking the Spider.
In technical terms, a DNA swab would not separate the two cars. Ferrari tried to develop a separate suspension tune for the Spider but then realized that it worked best with the exact same spring and damper settings as the GTB; the adaptable systems apparently are quick-witted enough to effectively cancel out the slight differences in mass and structural strength. Ferrari is particularly proud of the “vehicle response time” of six-hundredths of a second, this being the time between making a steering input and the car starting to react. It’s the same for both cars—and just as quick as the hard-core 458 Speciale.
The roof is impressively clever. It’s a two-part folding metal hardtop that can motor itself up or down in 14 seconds and at speeds of up to 25 mph. When raised, the only thing that gives away its non-permanence is the line that marks the gap between the two painted panels plus the fact you can’t see the engine. Once stowed, it hides invisibly beneath the rear panel that also conceals the rollover-protection system behind the seats. An electric glass window at the rear acts as a wind deflector. With the roof down there’s never any doubt you’re driving an open-topped car, but there’s little buffeting and—at smaller throttle openings—conversation can be conducted at comfortable volumes. From inside with the roof up, the cabin feels nearly identical to the GTB, with equally effective noise insulation.
Ferrari didn’t let us take the Spider onto a racetrack—our hair would have gotten all mussed up—but the drive through the hills around San Marino did include several roads with surfaces bad enough to suggest they were the work of some of Italy’s most corrupt contractors. Exactly the sort of territory a manufacturer seeking to hide a roadster’s structural issues would avoid at all costs. And therefore, we’re certain, the reason we were there. From the gentlest progress to the sort of cross-country pace that the Aeronautica Militare would regard as reckless, there was no hint of shake or unwanted vibration with roof up or down.
What about the noise? Open-topped Ferraris have sounded pretty much universally glorious, leading to some serious concern as to whether the 488’s new, 661-hp turbocharged V-8 can really deliver an appropriately operatic soundtrack when sampled unfiltered. Ferrari had several graphs to show us that the 488 isn’t lacking in this regard, including one that demonstrated how, in defiance of normal turbocharger logic, it continues to get louder as the revs rise, all the way to the 8000-rpm redline. It certainly sounds good when extended, bassier than the 458 and somehow angrier, but it can’t quite match the animalistic wail its predecessor reserved for the last stretch of its 1000-rpm-higher rev band. Strangely, the only time your ears detect evidence of turbocharging—the faint fluttering of the wastegate—is with the roof up, not down.
This is a niggle, but the only real one. For the most part, the new turbocharged engine is exceptional. We spent most of our day trying to catch it out of sorts, to detect evidence of lag. There might be some, but it’s well below standard human calibration, like looking for a needle in a fast-moving haystack. Within fractions of a second of thinking you can detect it—and only with the deliberate combination of low engine speed and a big throttle opening—it’s gone. When it matters, with the engine on song, throttle response feels stiletto-sharp.
The extra torque also dramatically improves real-world drivability, the sort that most Spider owners are going to be looking for. The engine delivers its peak power from 6000 to 8000 rpm, although you don’t need to always be skimming the limiter to be experiencing the best of it. While torque is limited in lower gears, the depth of the new powerplant’s lungs is never in doubt, and the V-8 pulls strongly at engine speeds that would have left the 458 gasping for breath. The flip side is that the fuel cutoff arrives sooner, although not before you’re expecting it, not least of all because the shift lights on the top of the steering wheel progressively illuminate as it gets closer. The shift time for the dual-clutch automatic transmission is claimed to be 30 percent quicker going up the ratios and 40 percent faster going down, yet with no loss of refinement.
The really clever thing about the 488’s battery of dynamic-assistance systems is that you rarely notice them. With the manettino mode switch in Sport—the gentlest setting other than Wet—you can feel the stability system gently reining in excessive enthusiasm. Yet if you switch to Race and drive with a similar level of commitment, the intervention threshold rises enough to effectively disappear, but without any of the adrenaline-spiking scariness you might expect from a turbocharged Ferrari with 50 percent more horsepower than the iconic F40. There’s huge grip, deadly accuracy, and—if you push—enough electronically dosed rear-end slip to make you feel like a minor driving deity.
Ferrari is often accused of arrogance, but the 488 Spider pretty much disproves the charge, certainly when it comes to product development, and Maranello doesn’t rest on its vast stack of laurels anymore. The Spider could have been softer than the GTB, flabbier, slower, and less focused. Few of its boulevard-cruising buyers would have minded, or even noticed. It doesn’t sound quite as good as the 458 Spider in extremis, but in every other regard it’s a better car. The 488GTB is a remarkable feat of engineering, but the 488 Spider is indeed a greater one.
Original Source: http://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/2016-ferrari-488-spider-first-drive-review